Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg
Imagine living a dream that would take you on a remarkable journey to visit 26 states, five Canadian provinces, and Cuba. Been there and done that, you say? Well, have you ever taken this journey on a 52-foot motor yacht over the course of three and a half years? This is exactly what Roger (retired CEO) and Christine VanHoozer (retired hospital wellness coach) did.
One might say that Roger and Christine’s lives were destined to be on the water. Both lived in Missouri when they met on Match.com and married in 2008.
While living on a houseboat in Missouri for three years, they heard of a 6,000-mile boat trip on the East Coast, Great Lakes, and Inland River system, called the Great Loop. They spent one and a half years studying it and looking for the right boat, which they found in Charleston, S.C. They named it “Miss Utah” after their recently departed Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Miss Utah. Incidentally, Chris graduated from the University of Utah.
Roger, who spent most of his career in Seattle in the heavy diesel engine business, traveled the world on business and had (and still has) a serious case of wanderlust. Having been raised on a farm in Kansas, Roger knows a lot about, well—about everything, which is what was needed in order to maneuver the waterways on what was supposed to be a one-year, 6,000-mile journey. But they kept learning of other places they wanted to visit by boat, so it became a three-and-a-half-year, 16,000-mile trip, which they explain as nothing more than a series of 50- and 100-mile trips.
Here is a short list of the ports of call/locations they saw (not in any particular order): Charleston, Annapolis, Cape May, New York City, Albany, Lake Champlain, Richelieu River, St. Lawrence Seaway, Quebec City, Saguenay Fjord, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Halifax, Bay of Fundy, Bar Harbor, Portland, Boston, Cape Cod, Newport, Martha’s Vineyard, Syracuse, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Mackinac Island, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Chattanooga, Mobile, Pensacola, Tampa, The Everglades, Florida Keys, Miami, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Savannah, and, of course, Cuba!
While putting the boat in heated storage in the north country, they spent their winters in places like Spain, Portugal, and Honduras, visiting family and snow skiing.
Ready for a change of lifestyle, they sold Miss Utah in late 2019 to do extended international travel. While in Ecuador in March 2020, COVID struck as the U.S. and Ecuador both closed their borders. However, they got out on the very last U.S.-bound plane just after the border closed.
Now homeless, they bought a motorcoach, which they used to travel the upper Midwest and East Coast. A winter visit to Tucson led them to SaddleBrooke, and the rest is history. But the lure of water travel had been beckoning them, and they just completed a two-week chartered yacht trip in the Pacific Northwest with Roger’s college friends.
So, how does one prepare for a three-and-a-half-year yacht trip? Here are some suggestions:
* Attend an America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association (www.greatloop.org) rendezvous where you will learn almost everything you need to know.
* Get lots of boating experience, though not necessarily on large boats.
* Complete U.S. Coast Guard boating classes to learn about navigation, safe boating, boating rules of the road, and legal issues.
* Become familiar with marine diesel engines and marine electrical and electronic systems.
* Check your bank account.
“There was never a great man yet who spent all his life inland.” —Herman Melville